Friday, 18 January 2008


Seneca's Oedipus rages [John Fitch translates]:
"See, a sudden flurry of tears burdens my face and wets my cheek with weeping. And is it enough to weep? No longer shall my eyes pour out this paltry moisture: they must be driven from their seats and follow their tears." [Oedipus 952f.]

John Dryden and Nathaniel Lee, translating, or adapting, the play in 1679, find a more striking form of words (the 'these' of the first line are his tears)
Yet these thou think'st are ample satisfaction
For bloodiest Murder and for burning Lust:
No, Parricide; if thou must weep, weep blood;
Weep Eyes, instead of Tears.

The idea that we might weep solidity from our eyes is a powerfully odd one; but it is saved from mere peculiarity by its connection with our own sense of the ambiguous status of eyeballs. They are solid, but also liquid--Shakespeare's vile jelly embodies the sense that the vileness is a function of their half-solid, half-liquid jellied abjection.

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